Our network of friends, family and colleagues to help us in life.

Adult Friend Challenge – Prudence

#16: Foresight

If a friend asks for a favor, think about the potential outcome: how saying yes or no would impact both of your lives in time and resources.


It’s human nature: we rely on our network of friends, family and colleagues to help us in life. No one can go it alone.

Being deliberate about how to ask for what you need or want can make a huge difference in your outcome. When you are asking for a favor, here are the three key steps to keep in mind:

  1. Set the Stage: “I have a favor to ask you”
  2. Give a Reason: “because…”
  3. Provide an Escape Clause: “if you can’t I understand”

Set the Stage

The phrase “I have a favor to ask you” is a small but powerful thing; it suggests an informal contract of sorts — if you help me now, I’ll get you back you later. Taking time to acknowledge that your request is indeed a favor and not just a given implies a two-way relationship that acknowledges some level of give and take, as opposed to just making the other person feel like they’re being taken for a ride.

It also gives the other person a moment (however brief) to switch gears and go into receiving mode to prepare to respond. Whether your friend or colleague’s initial reaction is “uh-oh” or “happy to help,” being transparent and stating your motive before asking for the actual favor is helpful.

Give a Reason

If you ask someone to do you a favor, you have better luck when providing a reason; people react positively to the word “because.” Even if the reason makes no sense or is unrelated to the request, people like to know why they’re being asked to do something. Presumably, your reason does make sense and is directly related to your request — so go ahead and share it.

Provide an Escape Clause

People are inherently good and they like doing things to help. Giving is said to be more fulfilling than receiving. So keep in mind that your goal is twofold–to get what you ask for and to do it in a way that enables the other person to feel good about helping out. The best way to do this is to always give the other person the opportunity to easily and graciously decline. No one feels good about doing a favor that is “put” to them. A favor you don’t really have the option of opting out of is not so much a favor as a command.

Quickly after making your request, be sure to add the following:

  • If you can’t help out, I completely understand, but I thought I’d ask.
  • I completely understand if you can’t make it; I know it’s a busy week for everyone.

Final Thoughts

People won’t always come through for you and you’re not expected to keep track — you shouldn’t simply decline someone’s request because they didn’t pull through for you last time. You can, however, do your best to ask people in a way that shows gratitude and that maximizes your chances of getting what you really need or want. Presumably, you will pay it forward at some point along the way.

Reciprocate or Give Thanks

Don’t be the person who asks for favors all the time but never does them for others. It’s old-fashioned, but I always try to send people gifts or at least a thank you card if they do me a favor. If you stay at someone’s house for a week, thus saving several hundred dollars, the least you can do is have some small present shipped to them. The idea isn’t necessarily to compensate them for their hospitality, but rather to show that you don’t take it for granted.

Resources: HBR.org and  OneParishApp

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